Rapid Prototyping: How to test ideas quickly and efficiently

Prototyping is not only relevant for engineers. Just as service providers profit from this method and start pilot projects quickly and efficiently.

Bringing new ideas to market costs time and money – companies often invest in the unknown. However, this does not have to be the case, because rapid prototyping is an efficient and cost-effective alternative to quickly testing and developing new ideas. Here are a few applications.

Fake door principle

A good example of prototyping was shown by McDonalds with the McSpaghetti, which was created as an idea. But before McDonalds invested a lot of money in testing and developing the court, they first wanted to test the idea in selected branches. They put the McSpaghetti on the menu and every time someone wanted to buy it, they apologized that it was already sold out and gave the person a discount for another dish. The number of requests was counted and after the testing phase it was clear – the idea was not ready for the market because the demand was too low. So with little effort an idea could be tested and checked whether it was suitable for the mass market or not.

Local and time-limited test runs

Testing in selected stores, as in the case of McSpaghetti, is generally a good tactic to find out if the idea is good or not. Before you make an idea public, you test it either in a small context or in a fixed timeframe. A time limit, more like a one-night stand, was also Airbnb in the test phase. The Airbnb founders offered their own apartment in San Francisco – rather out of necessity, as one of the flatmates moved out and rents in San Francisco are very high. Because of an important design conference, all the hotels in the city were fully booked and three designers spent the night in their apartment. This led to the idea of making apartments available to other people and Airbnb was founded. A stroke of luck for the Airbnb founders, but how can other companies also use rapid prototyping and test ideas for their implementation?

What exactly is rapid prototyping?

Before going into the tools, first of all: What exactly is rapid prototyping? Merete Beckmann, design thinking and innovation coach at Google, explains: “Rapid prototyping is the fast and iterative design of prototypes to test ideas. The process consists of three iterative steps and different methods that can be combined to get closer to the actual product. The three steps are thinking, building and learning”.

The basic idea: think – build – learn

The basic idea comes from design thinking and consists of three pillars:

  1. think
    Here paper or sketching is used to make an idea visually visible. The idea should be made visible and tangible. There is the possibility to create short videos, mockups or storyboards. There are no rules as to exactly how the idea should look. The main thing is that it happens quickly and a first draft is created as soon as possible!
  2. build
    In concrete terms, this means building digital prototypes, drawing a minimal version of the physical product or depicting the ideal process of the customer journey. In this phase it is a matter of investing as little time and money as possible for the first prototype. The basic function of the product or service is in the foreground and should be depicted in a minimalist way.
  3. learn
    That is the essential and exciting point. Let go and concentrate on watching and listening to the tester. Delivering exactly what the user wants and omitting everything else. What we do during the workshop are small role plays. Groups are formed to build something together. One from the group presents, the others move on to the next group, listen to the ideas for another project and give feedback. Direct feedback improves the product or service. Ideally, this process will be repeated several times until the new idea is understandable and useful. The questions and concerns are built right into the next presentation and automatically improved.

Helpful Tools for Rapid Prototyping

  • App House offers free downloadable useful tools, information and templates for areas such as technology and leadership.
  • D.School of Stanford University in the USA provides helpful and free design methods and tools.
  • Design Kit also provides many useful methods and case studies for inspiration.